Another academic year has come and gone - this one a hundred times stranger than any other that I have experienced. Yet, with all the disruption, inconvenience, and frustrations of a world-wide pandemic, we somehow made it work. The entire DRC crew endured an enormous test. Our collective trust in each other, as well as our flexibility, creativity, and kindness - generated even stronger bonds of connection. I am happy to say not only did our community survive, but we also thrived.
Friday, a very chilly day in the neighborhood, we celebrated three young people who finished their high school careers, as well as all of our other accomplishments this year, with a cookout and graduation ceremony.
Thank you to all of our kiddos, their families, our volunteers, and our staff for making it all possible during this stressful year. I am eternally grateful to you all.
* Photo credits to Amber B., Chase V., & Loretta B.- Thank you!
For those of you who enjoy numbers, we ended the year with forty-one members between our three programs (nearly double our membership this time last year). We had one graduate from each program. We had a total of five staff people at the two physical facilities. And, during the Fall and Spring semesters, we had a total of twenty St. Lawrence CBL (community-based learning) volunteers facilitating an average of thirty virtual sessions each week through Google Meet this fall and our Discord Server this spring. Out of our nine month academic year, we were in person a total of three and a half months, and remote for five and one half months.
Now, onward! I am excited to discover what year number eight has in store for DRC! As more folks discover the benefits of self-directed education - these numbers will only go up. Stay-tuned!
You probably have not considered that much of our cultural experience is fear-based. We live in a society hell-bent on "making sure" - it is so pervasive that many of us stifle any natural inclination that would lead us to appear weird, abnormal, or strange. As a society, we are deathly afraid of failure and judgment. Some may even buy into well-crafted conspiracy theories and pseudo-science (hook, line, and sinker) to explain away the science-based facts that don't fit their preconceived notions.
Additionally, we send our kids to school to "make sure" they learn all they need to learn, are "successful," and can get a "good" job (in society's estimation). We interfere in our children's play and creative endeavors because it may be "dangerous," and they may get hurt (or, our neighbors will report us for neglect). Or maybe, it doesn't fit into our definition of "proper" play or our expectations for them.
Most of us are, sadly, not even aware we are living in fear.
The opposite of all that anxiety and external stress is trust. Trust - in your own instincts that guide you to explore all the possibilities, despite all of your worries and outside judgments, and in each child's innate ability to learn and grow.
At the end of the day, it is the stress and fear that will most likely harm you and the ones you love, not the things you worry about.
I fully believe that trust in ourselves and the scientific method will steer us all to the work we need to do, individually and as a culture, to develop the solutions required to build a safe and equitable society for everyone.
What would happen if you trusted your instincts, jumped in, and did not let fear control your life?
At DRC, we understand that life is not separated into subjects - so why should we disconnect our learning experiences from each other? C and T are painting an art installation that will go in the DRC front yard, but among many other things, they are also spelling pet rabbits names, counting dots, mixing paint colors, and they are cooperating and sharing a creative experience together. And none of this was adult led - except for providing the resources.
This coming Friday is our last day until September. We will have a cookout and "party" to celebrate our three members finishing their high school career and the end of this super strange year.
We are sending out a shout of thanks to JVB, who donated a full-size drum set to the Canton Center.
Summer programs begin on August 16th for three weeks. Register here.
Anyone interested in joining Deep Root Center in September can contact me here.
And finally, a community member has asked me to share this American RelayBall kid opportunity here. You can contact him through the linked Facebook page.
How many times, in your lifetime, have the words "stop playing and focus" or "get your head out of the clouds and stop daydreaming" been directed at you? Once again, those phrases of rebuke that most of us have heard throughout our lives are misguided and outright flawed in our world of authority-driven, cut-throat competition.
Researchers are discovering that our brains need downtime. They demand all those unfocused quiet moments to reach their maximum creative capacity. Think about the times in your life that your most exciting ideas have seemingly flown into your head. I would bet it is when you are engaged in the mundane - doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, when you are in a yoga pose repeating your mantra, trying to meditate, or as a child when you were doodling or building with Legos. These are what I call the in-between spaces where inspiration has explicit permission to bubble up from the depths into your conscious mind to be acted upon. We know that you cannot force creativity - no amount of punishment, reward, or other coercive methods can produce innovative thought.
And as I wrote last week, innovation also requires allowing ourselves to play and "screw up" - once the imaginative process is engaged.
The great Sir Ken Robinson, who sadly passed away nine months ago, spent much of his career writing and speaking about the creativity gap. In his 2007 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity, the most-watched TED ever, one of the ideas he brings forward is, "If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most children have lost that capacity. They have become afraid of being wrong. We are educating people out of their creative capacity."
So what is the ideal educational environment? I will argue that it is simply one that supports creativity instead of squashing it. As Peter Gray points out in his work, children learn through free play and independent investigation. Full stop.
However, most of us don't want to hear that adult intervention and curricula are irrelevant and meaningless. But, it is, in fact, true. "But," you ask, "if I am not directing the process, where is my place in all of this?"
While children require the space and time to dream, imagine, and play - they also need access to supportive adults who will foster those in-between spaces for deep thought and free play. These are mentors who will always be available with a listening ear and loving encouragement (be clear that they will always advocate for them). And then, when they are ready, the adults will supply the materials and resources, stand back, get to hell out of the way - watching and cheering from the sidelines as the magic unfolds.
If your child is miserably unhappy - there is a reason, and it is not their fault. DRC can help them find their happy place again. Get in touch today. We are currently enrolling for the 21/22 academic year.
DRC Summer Programs - Registration is live.
Did you make a mistake today? Or maybe I should rephrase that question and ask, how many mistakes did you make today? On any given day, I can safely say my slip-ups, goofs, and outright disasters are often too numerous to count. I can say this without (much) embarrassment - because I understand that every one of them has a direct line to a significant learning experience, and none of them come with ill intent attached.
I am, by nature, an exceedingly curious person - I always want to grasp the "hows," "whys," and "whats" of everything I encounter. And if that means experimenting and exploring the "ins" and "outs" to discover the answers - I will. This entire process is what I often refer to as playing, and it includes all of the mistakes, bumbles, and missteps that are bound to happen along the way.
This personal ideology is inextricably linked to the philosophy behind self-directed learning and my work at Deep Root Center - and is frequently counter to every formal educational experience the members of DRC have ever known.
I expect, no, nix that, I actively encourage every single person at DRC to experiment, explore, make mistakes, get messy, and have fun every time they think to themselves, "I wonder why, how, or what if ..."
However, they often come to us with the ingrained message that making a mistake means you failed and, subliminally, they are not good enough. This also means DRC kiddos will not jump into anything unfamiliar, won't investigate new ideas, and don't know how to play when they first arrive because they are deathly afraid of "screwing up," getting reprimanded, punished, and disappointing everyone around them.
I believe their innate curiosity, the very essence of their childhood, has been stolen from them. Without natural inquiry, there is no driving interest - and no thirst for knowledge or understanding.
I have said in the past that I always know when a kid (teen) is coming out of the deschooling process when they come to me and ask, "can I...?" Yet, I have never linked these two things in my mind before - their lack of curiosity obviously connects directly to the apathy, indifference, passivity, and exhaustion we usually associate with the deschooling process.
Several folks researching and writing about self-directed education have asked me, "how do you measure success in this environment?" My response is (and will always be) one word, "engagement!" Any curious kid, deeply immersed in exploration and experimentation, is by very definition happy and flourishing simply because they are learning something new.
The above photo is a perfect example of curiosity and playing in action. I gave each kid in the cooking class two eggs to make anything they wanted. K decided to cook a ham & cheese omelet. A was undecided - first, he looked in a cookbook and then asked, "can I make up something sweet?" This question led to a discussion about a basic cookie recipe followed by a thorough search of the kitchen to find other ingredients to add. He found marshmallows in the freezer and decided to invent cinnamon cookies with marshmallow bits. I have to admit, despite being very sticky, they were delicious!
The DRC Exploration Station Suite of Services is coming back later this summer and fall. Summer Programming begins on August 16th and will continue for three weeks. Afternoon Programming starts on September 7th. Space is limited. Register today.
Membership for the 21/22 academic year is open. Learn more about all of our programs on our website. And remember, your financial situation does not impact your child's ability to be at DRC.
Love is Love has become one of the staple mantras used to support people who identify as LGBTQIA+. It indicates that people are people, and romantic love is the same - no matter your sexual preferences and gender identity.
Today, I am approaching this from the opposite direction to argue that, additionally, familial love is love and should not be dependent upon preconceived notions or cultural judgments.
Love is unconditional. You don't stop loving someone simply because they decided to get a tattoo or piercing or that they let you know that they identify differently than the label you or society has placed upon them. And specifically, not because they have grown and changed through the mistakes they learned from along the way. In the same way, you don't stop loving someone because they became a vegetarian, colored their hair bright blue, or decided to move to New Zealand to pursue a career in film making or maybe even raise sheep.
Learning to accept and honor our true selves and living authentically without our socially accepted mask in place is hard enough. Don't make it more difficult by presenting your love as conditional to your (and society's) biases and prejudices.
Love is Love - a clear statement to sum up the boundless encouragement, advocacy, respect, trust, and generosity every person on this earth needs (and deserves) to not only survive but to thrive, discover, and live their purpose.
If you have considered Deep Root Center, but have held back because of finances, we would like you to know that Deep Root Center has implemented a new "Pay What You Can" policy. We have done this because, like we have explicit trust in all of our members, we also trust our families to talk openly with our staff about their budget, and what they can reasonably afford. Get in touch today - we look forward to hearing your story.
Bottom line: We are here to support every child to be their awesomely authentic selves and your financial situation should have nothing to do with that.
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